One of the first American-bred hard rock groups to challenge British supremacy in the early '70s, Montrose is still remembered as, if not the most successful, certainly one of the most influential bands of the era. In fact, many of the personalities responsible for the group's legendary, self-titled debut (producer Ted Templeman, engineer Don Landee, vocalist Sammy Hagar) would later become instrumental players in the formative and later-day career of the mighty Van Halen. And to his credit, though he ultimately lacked the focus and leadership skills to consistently guide his band's career, guitarist Ronnie Montrose was a true original of the instrument. His superlative playing aside, the avid big game hunter lived the double-entendre guitar-playing gunslinger lifestyle long before Ted Nugent made the combination famous.
After cutting his teeth as a session musician with the likes of Van Morrison and the Edgar Winter Group, guitarist Ronnie Montrose decided to form his own, self-named band in 1973. Enlisting the help of fellow session pros Bill Church (bass), Denny Carmassi (drums), and a talented, up-and-coming Californian singer named Sammy Hagar, Montrose soon released their eponymous first album in November of that year. Although it never broke the Billboard Top 100, Montrose eventually went platinum and was arguably the first full-fledged heavy metal album by an American band (early proto-metal efforts by Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf notwithstanding). With classics like "Space Station No. 5" and "Bad Motor Scooter" leading the charge to the nation's airwaves, it is still considered one of the finest, most influential releases of the decade, to boot. But trouble was already looming, as Church quit the group soon after and was replaced by bassist/keyboard player Alan Fitzgerald for the ensuing tour. Released less than a year after their debut, the erratic Paper Money proved to be a surprisingly diverse but unfocused follow-up that failed to match its predecessor's consistency or popularity. Making things worse, escalating tensions between Montrose and Hagar soon led to the latter's departure following the Paper Money tour. He went on to an increasingly successful solo career, and, of course, eventually Van Halen.
The '70s gave us a slew of classic hard rock albums -- the likes of which may never be equaled -- and though it hasn't had the lasting influence of, say, Boston's or Ted Nugent's first albums, Montrose's eponymous debut proved equally influential and important in its day. Released in 1973, the record also introduced a young Sammy Hagar to the world, but the explosive aggression of Ronnie Montrose's biting guitar left no doubt as to why it was his name gracing the cover. A rock-solid rhythm section featuring drummer Denny Carmassi and bassist Bill Church certainly didn't hurt, either, and unstoppable anthems such as "Rock the Nation" and "Good Rockin' Tonight" would lay the ground rules for an entire generation of late-'70s California bands, most notably Van Halen. Admittedly, tracks like "Make It Last" and "I Don't Want It" sound rather dated by today's sonic standards (no thanks to their ultra-silly lyrics), but no amount of time can dim the sheer euphoria of "Bad Motor Scooter," the adolescent nastiness of "Rock Candy," and the simply gargantuan main riff of the phenomenal "Space Station #5." A welcome addition to any respectable '70s hard rock collection. (buy it)
Montrose - Space Station #5